Long Islanders care intensely about the environment. It’s in our DNA. We demand that our water be clean and our open space preserved, and we want to protect ourselves from the effects of climate change. It’s critical work, and it never stops.
So the region should feel good about the state budget crafted last week by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan (R-East Northport) and Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie (D-Bronx). It is, frankly, the best environmental budget in Cuomo’s six-year tenure. Its splashy billboard is the largest increase ever in the Environmental Protection Fund, which finances dozens of vital programs. Earlier this year, we pitched an increase from $177 million in 2015-16 to $300 million for this year — and that’s exactly what happened. The money includes $24 million to combat climate change and $15 million that can be tapped for wetlands restoration and stormwater runoff in Long Island Sound. There’s $1.5 million to test water for contaminants in schools and homes (think Flint, Michigan), $12 million for invasive species (think pine beetles), and for the first time, $1 million for the safe disposal of pharmaceutical drugs.
The budget also invests big in water and sewer infrastructure — $200 million over two years to complement $150 million already appropriated. And to help reach Cuomo’s goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions 40 percent by 2030, there’s a $2,000 credit for buying zero-emission and plug-in electric hybrid cars, along with rebates for municipalities that build charging stations.
The Department of Environmental Conservation still needs more staff — especially inspectors to investigate illegal dumping and sand mining — but this budget is a good base from which to build, and it can help the environment Long Island always has cherished. — The editorial board